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June 06, 2017

The problem with following dark money is that the present is opaque, the future nearly indiscernible, and even hindsight is no better than 20-200. So I perked up a bit when I saw excellent coverage by the Bay State Banner’s Yawu Miller, New Hub group organizes parents, teachers, students for education agenda.

The story is about the organizing activities of a new advocacy group, Boston Education Action Network (BEAN), and a community meeting held in December. Let’s not wait for the money question:

While the question of charter school expansion did not come up in the meeting, the aftermath of the bitter battle flared when one parent activist, Chris Hoeh, asked BEAN organizers about the source of their funding.

The organizers did not answer Hoeh’s question publicly, instead inviting him to a separate room for a conversation. The group’s parent organization, Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) — a 501(c)(4) political action arm of Teach for America — has drawn some scrutiny from education activists.

“The organizers did not answer Hoeh’s question publicly, instead inviting him to a separate room for a conversation.” How I love that quote! As to BEAN’s funding, I can help.

The local office of LEE was opened with funding from Boston based 501(c)(3) Strategic Grant Partners. On its Form 990PF tax return for FY 2015 (July 1, 2014-June 30, 2015), SGP reported a grant to LEE of $150,000 “to help launch organization in Massachusetts.” SGP also approved for future payment $550,000 to LEE “to help launch organization in Massachusetts.”

LEE is an offshoot of Teach for America, serving as a campaign school/networking/advocacy/organizing arm, aiming to put former TFA teachers in elected and appointed leadership positions. LEE’s operations have been detailed by American Prospect in Teach for America’s Deep Bench and by Education Week in Teach for America Spinoff Helps Alumni Gain Influence.

SGP has also been generous to Teach for America. In FY 2014 SGP granted TFA $409,765 “to help build capacity to expand operations to western Massachusetts” and in FY 2015 TFA got $600,000 for “capacity building and help launch new plan for TFA MA.”

Also in FY 2015, SGP granted Educators for Excellence $350,000 “to help launch organization in Massachusetts” and committed future payments of $2,150,000 “to help launch organization in Massachusetts.” The Boston Teachers Union has published at least two articles warning about E4E: Getting to the bottom of Educators for Excellence and More on Educators for Excellence.

The approach mirrors how Strategic Grant Partners built up the Massachusetts operations of Families for Excellent Schools, the dark money daddy of Great Schools Massachusetts, and Stand for Children before that. What’s funny is that LEE and FES share the same address on Wall St: 80 Pine St., New York (they are four floors apart).

The amounts discussed above are at least two years old – Strategic Grant Partners FY 2016 tax returns aren’t publicly available yet and FY 2017 won’t close until June 30, 2017. So who knows what else they are up to? But put together the sums from 2014 and 2015 and you have about $4,210,000 targeted at young non-union teachers.

“For now we see through a glass, darkly.” But the teachers unions may want to be ready for a frontal assault.

The Washington Post recently adopted a new slogan: “Democracy dies in darkness.” I agree.

[Full disclosure: as an educator in the UMass system, I am a union member. I write about dark money (and other things). I don't write about education policy.]

Strategic Grant Partners, BTU, Boston Teachers Union

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